Stephanie R. Ostrowski, DVM, MPVM
Surveillance and Epidemiology Branch, Division of Quarantine, National Center for Infectious Disease, Center for Disease Control and Prevention, Atlanta, GA, USA
Nearly 1,000 species of bats occupy an astonishing variety of ecologic niches. They range from solitary to colonial in their habits, from frugivorous to carnivorous in their diets, and from grams to kilograms in adult body weight. These animals have recently emerged as popular exhibition species at zoos while native species are receiving increasing attention in naturalist and conservation programs.
The international transport of bats is regulated by the International Air Traffic Association (IATA) that specifies the shipping containers that must be used. Recently revised, these requirements have become more flexible, but are likely to have additional changes suggested by the Chiropteran TAG and other experts. CDC’s Division of Quarantine has further observations on designs and procedures which make the importation process smoother.
Public health concerns are present in the potential for transmission of rabies and a number of other diseases by bats. Of the non-imported cases of rabies in humans since 1980, all have been determined to be bat-associated strains, rather than strains associated with domestic animals or terrestrial wildlife. The Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists (CSTE), an influential public health body, has adopted a position statement which discourages having bats in situations where public contact may occur, such as free-flight exhibits. The Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the Public Health Service advises that persons in contact with bats be pre-immunized against rabies, and has updated its recommendations on post-exposure prophylaxis to include bat-associated situations which previously were thought not to require intervention. In addition to preventing any direct contact of the general public with bats, consideration should be given to guidelines where personnel contact does occur, such as zoo staff (including volunteers), wildlife rehabilitators, and private veterinarians and their clinical staff.